Solutions for Britain’s 12.4 billion pounds’ worth of unclaimed benefits

And what do we do about that? (See this for more info.)

I don’t know. British government is utterly useless in this respect. Everybody knows that.

Could local government be better? Instead of city councils sending out e-mails that encourage people to buy lottery tickets (!!), could they include a list of potential benefits people may qualify for? It might even stop those people from getting into arrears with their council tax, for example.

Other than that, I have no solutions. Anyone?


I got that in response to this:

Ladies, gentlemen,

Some time ago, the tone of your council tax payment reminders changed considerably. The letters can now be seen as condescending toward socioeconomic minorities.

Most people do not choose to ignore their council tax bills, after all. They are forced to.

You know as well as I do that people who are on any kind of benefit to do with the DWP often suffer from delays, sanctions and errors in their payments. Their income is not such that it can bridge those income gaps and the income gaps usually mean that people are not able to carry out bill payments.

This situation is going to get worse as a result of the roll-out of the universal credit system which currently results in payment gaps of 6 to 8 weeks.

May I suggest that instead of chiding people for being of the wrong class, you offer support and solutions?

One solution for bridging income gaps caused by the DWP could be to set up small local networks that offer peer-to-peer interest-free lending. Each individual might for example lend £5 or £10 to the person left in the lurch by the DWP, which would limit each individual’s risk. This could enable people to continue paying their bills instead of getting in arrears. When the delayed DWP payment finally arrives, they would have to return the loaned money. If they don’t, they’d be kicked out of the network. Any new delays would have to be covered through a new loan.

I know that Britain distinguishes between lesser and higher human beings, but that is against the law, even in Britain, and your letters could be perceived as discriminatory in nature.

Thank you for your consideration.

Kind regards,

Angelina Souren

Of course, the above also holds for other situations, such as cleaners whose get their wages late or whose paid wage amount was incorrect. Benefit payments have been in the news a lot lately, however.

Solutions for the Universal Credit income gap

As most people in Britain know by now, the roll-out of universal credit leaves recipients without income for 6 to 8 weeks. Recipients of universal credit are not able to bridge such gaps, which means they develop arrears, often for the first time in their lives, and sometimes lose their homes as a result.

One solution for bridging these income gaps could be to set up local peer-to-peer interest-free lending networks. To be able to bridge the gap left by universal credit, such networks would have to include people with higher incomes (whereas smaller loans of, say, £50 to £100 can be provided by small networks of people who each lend a fiver or a tenner).

As soon as the delayed payment comes in, the recipient would have to pay off that loan.

This could be a solution that empowers people and prevents arrears.

I am aware that this would be a highly thoroughly un-British solution, but the usual endless whining of so many lone individuals – regardless of whether they write in the Guardian or not – does not help anyone bridge that monstrous income gap either.

And even if the gap were to be reduced to 4 weeks, this would still be too much to bridge.

The main motivation for universal credit appears to be a concealed benefit cut (without calling it that). “We want to make sure people who work get more money than people who depend on benefits”, the government has said. In a low-wage country, that is very bad news.

Iain Duncan Smith – he who laughed loudly when he heard of suicides and other forms of suffering among particularly disabled and chronically ill people as a result of benefit cuts – has said that the 6-to-8 weeks wait is actually a Treasury thing, not a DWP thing. If that is true, then the only reason that I can think of for the delay is the interest the government can make on the delayed UC payments. (This – interest – is the reason why many big corporations pay all their bills late.)

(I realize that UC is only still being piloted and running behind big time, but it’s about to push into its next phase and there are no signs that the government is going to remedy the mess.)

Britain’s unclaimed benefits: four million families miss out on £12.4 billion

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Why aren’t people entitled to benefits claiming them?

Dan Finn, University of Portsmouth

Up to £12.4 billion of means-tested benefits – including pension credit, housing benefit and jobseekers and employment support allowance – were left unclaimed in 2015-16, according to new data released by the UK’s Department for Work and Pensions.

Means-tested benefits are designed to ensure a minimum standard of living for Britain’s poorest families. But not all those people eligible are claiming them – in comparison to the near universal take-up rate of the basic state pension and widespread take-up of child benefit (which is taxable only for high earners).

Annual average amounts unclaimed by eligible families vary from an estimated £5,000 per year for those eligible for employment support allowance (for those with a disability or long-term illness), to £2,000 per year for those eligible for pension credit. In a parallel data series HM Revenue & Customs estimates take-up rates for tax credits – which are paid directly to qualifying low paid workers.

The latest data for 2014-15 adds further to the scale of unclaimed entitlements. The central estimate is that £2.3 billion of child tax credit and £3 billion of working tax credit went unclaimed by 640,000 families and 1.2m families respectively.

Improving take-up rates of means-tested benefits directly reduces poverty. Research also suggests that families who top up their income with benefits also have higher levels of health, family well-being, and employment participation and retention.

Why people don’t claim

The failure to claim benefits stems from a mix of social and economic circumstances, administrative structures, and complex eligibility rules. It may, for example, reflect a lack of awareness about the availability of the benefit or a potential claimant’s expectation that the costs involved in applying for the benefit outweigh the value of any payment.

But there is much evidence that a key factor undermining take-up is the poor design and delivery of the benefits system. Take-up has also been implicitly discouraged by policy changes targeted at some working age groups, especially the short-term unemployed. An increase in conditions and related sanctions are designed to get people into work as quickly as possible and, as a result, make their claims to benefits relatively short-lived.

Plus, the tenor of contemporary media narratives on welfare dependency has increased the stigma attached to claimants, especially people of working age. Research suggests this stigmatisation is linked to reductions in take-up and a reluctance to claim among potential beneficiaries, notably among pensioners.

The British government is unique in Europe in publishing robust annual estimates of benefit and tax credit take-up. The data for 2015-16 gives an insight into which families are at risk of poverty and claim the help from the state that they are entitled to, as the graph below shows.

Take-up rates vary depending on the type of household. For example, while the overall take-up of housing benefit was 77%, it ranged from over 90% for singles with children to only 64% for those eligible in private rented accommodation. And while the main estimate for working tax credit was 65%, only 33% of eligible households without children were claiming it.

The data implies that those with greater entitlements are more likely to claim. A significant change since 2012-13 was a decrease of 11% in means-tested jobseekers allowance caseload take-up – people who are entitled to a benefit but who do not claim it. This may have been due to high employment rates, more stringent conditions attached to claiming unemployment benefit and the early impact of the new universal credit, which for working age people rolls most means-tested benefit entitlements into a single monthly payment.

Universal credit take-up must be measured

There are no estimates or commitment yet given to publish take-up data for universal credit, even though it is now claimed by 1.5m people and will, it is estimated, be claimed by nearly 6m households in 2021. One of the supposed principal benefits of universal credit is that it will improve take-up rates by making the system less complicated and easier to deliver.

The evidence on take-up suggests these assumptions are over optimistic. It will take time for awareness to develop about the new rules and regulations involved.

It is unlikely that public and voluntary sector organisations will be able to invest in the additional effort needed to inform potential claimants, front line delivery staff, and related intermediary organisations that assist more disadvantaged groups and communities. There is also a risk that the “default digital delivery” (which means that most universal credit claimants must apply and self-manage their claims online) may reduce and deter take-up among people without access to computers or the skills to navigate digital channels.

Means-tested entitlements will likely remain at the centre of the British welfare system, including for many pensioners. And measures to improve take-up will remain central to national and local poverty-reduction strategies. It’s therefore vital to continue publishing take-up data to gauge the future impact of universal credit and related welfare and pension reforms.

The ConversationIf universal credit take-up rates do not improve as anticipated, the government should establish and state what percentage of eligible people eligible it expects to take it up. Measuring take-up rates would provide an important way to assess the impact of universal credit and help establish a transparent benchmark to measure whether the new system is achieving its objectives of reducing poverty and incentivising work. The government might also consider investing some of the £12.4 billion unspent means-tested benefits to develop new ways to increase take-up.

Dan Finn, Emeritus Professor of Social Inclusion, University of Portsmouth

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Bees in the city: Designing green roofs for pollinators

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Bees living in cities often have to seek out green space like parks, ravines and gardens. Green roofs could offer them some habitat.

Catherine Howell, University of Toronto; Jennifer Drake, University of Toronto, and Liat Margolis, University of Toronto

Declining bee populations have been widely covered in the news. It is a pressing issue worldwide as one in three bites of food that we eat relies on bee pollination.

A key factor that affects bees is increasing urban development as people flock to cities. As cities develop, they sprawl into their surroundings, fragmenting animal habitats and replacing vegetation with hard surfaces such as concrete and asphalt. Insects, including a multitude of native bees, rely on soil and plants for foraging and nesting.

Bee habitat and foraging opportunities become smaller and more distant from each other. These segments of green space have become known as “habitat patches,” disconnected pieces of habitat that animals can move between to achieve the effect of a larger ecosystem.

These patches occur in cities and can take the form of ravines, parks, gardens and so on.

Despite the fact that pollinators such as birds, bees and butterflies are better at moving between patches than less mobile species, a continuous habitat is always preferable. Green roofs are seen as a way to make up for ecological habitat fragmentation. But studies and guidelines about where and how to best construct green roofs for pollinators are just emerging.

A wild, non-native bee forages for pollen on the green roof of the University of Toronto’s GRIT Lab.

Though domesticated bee species such as the well known European honey bee (Apis mellifera) tend to receive greater attention when it comes to declining population, wild bee species are often found to be even more threatened. Wild bee species are most commonly “solitary” as opposed to “social” and nest in the ground or in existing cavities, not hives.

Of the 20,000 or so known bee species, 85 per cent or more are solitary. Rapid urbanization, through paving extensive areas of our environment and loss of vegetative cover, is having a widespread harmful impact on their habitat.

Cities are beginning to recognize the importance of creating and enhancing healthy habitats for pollinator populations that support resilient ecosystems and contribute to a rich urban biodiversity.

The City of Toronto is in the process of developing a Pollinator Protection Strategy intended to raise awareness, develop new education and training, evaluate and investment in green spaces, as well as reexamine city maintenance practices.

Green roofs are mentioned in the Protection Strategy as one way cities can compensate for the loss of ecological habitat and provide valuable foraging opportunities for urban wildlife.

Native or non-native?

Research on the topic of green roofs as pollinator habitats has been fairly limited, but with cities like Toronto adopting bylaws that mandate green roof implementation, there’s an opportunity to study what design decisions are most critical to their success.

Green roof planting choices have been shown to play a part in attracting specific bee species. Sedum species, which are drought-tolerant succulent plants, have always been the most popular choice for green roofs due to their hardiness under extreme conditions, long flowering period and low maintenance requirements.

In fact, in Toronto, a great majority of green roofs are planted with sedum.

Research by University of Toronto Prof. Scott MacIvor and colleagues at the Green Roof Innovation Testing Lab (GRIT Lab) shows that when individual native bees visited sedum, their pollen loads contained other herbaceous flower sources, whereas non-native bees had more full pollen loads of sedum more often.

These findings suggest that if the majority of green roofs are planted strictly with non-native sedum varieties, it could result in a lost opportunity to bolster precious habitat for native pollinators.

It’s important to note that roughly 92 per cent of Toronto’s bee species are native. So, favouring non-native plants can provide habitat for non-native bees over native bees, and could consequently lead to increased competition for those native bees.

Site matters

Despite many green roofs being opportune places for bees to inhabit, research has shown that the location of the green roof matters. The higher the roof, the fewer bees were found there. Green roofs implemented above the eighth storey would not benefit from any additional nesting resources or attract bees.

This doesn’t mean that green roofs atop skyscrapers are useless, but that they should focus on other benefits such as rainwater retention, air quality improvement and thermal cooling.

In large cities like Toronto, many new high-rise buildings are being built with a “tower and podium” configuration, whereby the first few floors of the building have a wide floor area, often covering most of the block (podium), and the tower is set back from the edge of the building.

The roof of the podium is often used as communal space for the building’s occupants and presents a good spot for a biodiverse green roof that could serve bees’ needs. The study further shows that a decline in green space area within a 600-metre radius around each rooftop results in decreasing species richness (diversity) and abundance.

Toronto’s Old City Hall is seen from the green roof planted on the podium of the new City Hall.

Therefore, those designing pollinator habitats on green roofs should consider green space in the surrounding landscape and other features outlined in the City of Toronto Guidelines for Biodiverse Green Roofs.

Considerations and recommendations

Though the appeal of planting green roofs with sedum is evident, limiting the plant palette solely to sedum species could be a lost opportunity to promote native plant and pollinator species in urban environments.

At its worst, this practice could cause non-native bee species to have a leg up on natives as both groups compete for pollen.

It’s important to not only consider plant communities on green roofs, but also the building height and its proximity to other habitat patches to provide as much foraging habitat as possible for bees.

The ConversationWe still need new research into nesting opportunities for ground-nesting bees in the green roof growing medium, as well as the connectivity between ground level landscapes and green roofs, to better understand the ecological value of green roofs in sprawling urban regions.

Catherine Howell, Research Assistant, GRIT Lab, University of Toronto; Jennifer Drake, Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering, University of Toronto, and Liat Margolis, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture , University of Toronto

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.